Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Sunday, February 27, 2011

YOUSEF HABIBI, IM SORRY--Beit Ommar, Palestine-- 012811

Yousef, habibi, you are gone.....why you became another of the invisible victims of this stupid, unfair occupation? Mohamed your 14 year old brother was arrested in front of my eyes, without me being able to do anything. I wish it was me who was arrested, but it was him and he spent three months in jail for throwing the so called stones that israelis use as an excuse to arrest young Palestinians. I'm sorry that I could not do anything for you or for your brother.....I AM SORRY, HABIBI, I AM SORRY!!! Johanna

I still recall about two months ago,when I was in Beit Ommar. We were attacked with tear gas and sound bombs, by the Israeli military, for demonstrating peacefully against the Israeli occupation and the illegal confiscation of Beit Ommar’s land. I was there, with many other Palestinians and Israelis, that week, like other weeks with their bodies as their only weapon, trying stand for justice.

Beit Ommar is village, south of Bethlehem. The people of Beit Ommar, young and old, still stand and still struggle, every day, every hour, every minute. As did Yousef Fahkri Ikhlayl, a 17 year old Palestinian, until January 28 when he was shot dead in the head by Israeli settlers of Bet Ayn. Today, another innocent young Palestinian adds to the victims of the occupation. But Yousef was not the only victim. This is the second settler attack with live ammunition on Palestinians in as many days. On January 27th, Uday Maher Qadous was shot by settlers while farming his land in the village of Iraq Brin, near Nablus.

The Israeli media just mentioned the event, saying that the settlers were hiking when they were attacked by Palestinians with stones. Then, of course, they had the right to self defense, but with M16’s. Contrary to claims by the Israeli Military of “clashes” in Beit Ommar and Saffa between Israeli settlers and Palestinian resident, in reality Yousef was murdered while working on his family’s fields with his father.

Bekah Wolf, American citizen who worked with Yousef in the Center for Freedom and Justice in Beit Ommar said:‘Yousef was a kid who hoped for a better future for Palestine. His life was ended prematurely by right-wing extremists. People around the world should be outraged by his shooting, and should work to bring his attackers to justice. “

Yousef worked on initiatives with the Palestine Solidarity Project, an anti-occupation organization in Beit Ommar. In the summer of 2010, Yousef attended the Center for Freedom and Justice’s Freedom Flotilla Summer Camp where he engaged in educational projects, community service, and unarmed demonstrations against the Israeli occupation. In the fall of 2010 Yousef was a participant in a youth photography class also sponsored by the center. So he was not just another kid who threw stones.

If this happened in the US, a democracy, the perpetrators would be detained, investigated and prosecuted according to the law, for homicide, but not in Israel. The military was sent to escort the settlers instead of detaining the responsible of the killing. On top of that they attacked the thousands that came to pay respects in Yousef’s funeral with live bullets, tear gas and sound bombs.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on the killing of Yousef, but did not even mention his name, as if it was not important. The report was accompanied by a picture of Palestinian in East Jerusalem throwing stones, instead of settlers holding guns. It also had statements from Kiryat Arba's council chief Malachi Levinger reiterating claims that the settlers were attacked while hiking in the area, and emphasized what he called as the "right of Jews to travel their country." also adding that “We call upon the IDF and the police to aid the defense of this right and to seek the guilty parties within the rioters not within the travelers who acted in self defense," Levinger added.

Their country according to whom? At least not according to international law. There is consensus among the international community that the settlements on the West Bank are a violation of international law and the occupation is illegal. All of the farmers from the Saffa village have documents proving their ownership of the land, and have been working on the land without military interference for decades.

Bet Ayn is one of over 200 Israeli settlements within the West Bank. Today more than 1,000 settlers from Bet Ayn live on land that was used for centuries by Palestinian families. Residents of Bet Ayn have a long history of violence. They frequently attack neighboring residents of Palestinian villages and destroy their sources of income. The primary reason behind this campaign of terror and destruction is an attempt to deter local Palestinian farmers from farming their land to facilitate the annexation of the land by the Israeli military for further settlement expansion.

But Yousef’s death has reached the international community. Throughout the past week, supporters around the world honored Yousel in Jaffa, Chicago and San Francisco. Finally, the world is awakening.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On Iraqi Realities and Unrealities, Erbil, Iraq 011211

The past two weeks have been overwhelming. A 17-year-old Palestinian shot by the settlers in Beit Ommar. Closely following the events in Egypt and just wanting to be in that same Tahrir Square I was a little bit more than a year ago. But now is different, last year it was just us, internationals standing in Tahrir Square, but now, it just lifts my heart to see it filled with Egyptians both young and old, women and men, Christian and Muslims. The images are just so empowering. When I was there two months ago, I never imagined that this will unfold, otherwise I would have stayed there.

I cannot find words to express how I feel. Sometimes angry, sad, and sometimes frustrated. Sometimes grateful for the freedom I have, just by virtue of being born American. I find myself just living the Iraqi reality, where basic things such as electricity are unavailable most of the time. I will be writing a more deep analysis on that soon, but for now just know that it is even a struggle to take a hot shower, because of the lack of electricity, so that happens only once or twice a week. I took a shower today, well, a half shower. I really lost count on when was my last shower. My roommate makes fun of me, and tells me to thank the Ministry of Electricity.

Electricity is an issue, but there is gas and tea to keep one warm...

Nights in Iraq are cold, I sleep with many blankets and even sometimes I feel cold. It is midnight, and as I write, the electricity is gone, like every day at this time. There are two kinds of electricity supply, the public one provided by the state and the private supplied by generators. My roommate explained, “We have to switch to the one that is available”. It took me more than a week to understand which was which, after every day around midnight, the electricity supply changes to the state supply and mostly all day, the generators take over. “This is not life” my roommate exclaims every time, and I have learned to echo her slogan.

Snow on the Iraq mountains in Shaqlawa

As I mentioned before, one of the big challenges is being a woman and trying to live in a male dominated society, where women are barely seen out alone. So this has been one of my challenges. Every day, after work, I sit in a cafe that is close to my work, I am the only girl, and I have to deal with all the guys looking at me, like if I was something strange. I can because I am not from here, so my “reputation” will not be stained, nor anyone will kill me for dishonoring my family. But local girls have it miserable to live like that, they don’t have a social life, they just go home and sit in the computer or talk on the phone, and just try to look for a husband so they can be free to go out without being judged. Oftentimes I find myself thinking like an Iraqi girl, as I have been living, working, laughing and crying and sharing their frustrations for the past two months. These are beautiful, well prepared women, they know about the opportunities they could have if they leave Iraq, but there is a lot of pressure on them and while they manage to find their way out, they have to stick to the rules.

My coworker putting make up on our way to work

I came here to see “the real Iraq”, the face of Iraq that is not shown by the mainstream media, the poor and the marginalized by the war, but in turn I have found another face of Iraq: the face of the internal struggle seen in my own co-workers, the faces of the guys that work on the cafe, and the supermarket I buy my groceries from. The faces of the internally displaced Iraqis that turn to Kurdistan as their source of stability, jobs, peace and security. The faces of those who look fine on the outside, but that have a big pain inside. The pain of being away from their families, the pain of having lost everything in Baghdad, of having being threatened to death and pushed out of their homes because of their religious views. The pain of women being trapped in a society that oppresses and discriminates her, that does not allow her to be a WOMAN. On the same day, three of the young women, who are close to me complained about the same: they felt sad, and depressed, the daily routine of going to work and coming back home, without nothing else to do, no chances to participate in society, to go out with friends, have fun, to be active in their communities, to be able to shape their future. An I found myself suffering from the same things.

A typical scene at the suq next to the citadel, Erbil

An equally challenging thing is having to deal with the Kurdish bureaucracy: that is NOT EASYYY! The Assayish, (kind of like the Kurdish CIA) has to give me the clearance for renewing my visa, which with this bureaucracy, is never going to happen! I was really disappointed because after my visit to the Ministry of Interior and waiting for one week, they just dismissed me with a list of documents, some of which at this point are very complicated to get, including an 8,000$ guarantee letter which someone has to give me! Also, they need a letter stating that I am residing here in Ankawa and I have to show proof of residence, which I really don’t have because I am not even renting a place.

For the past month, I have been living with one of my coworkers, I stay here and there. I don't even have an address, well, nobody really does. If you ask people for an address, they will say, next to the supermarket. I say I live by the Venus restaurant. Is really funny. So, how do you get mail, I asked. "We don't " my co-worker replied. I really confirmed this today, when I was checking the UN contact list of active NGO’s in Kurdistan. The address column was filled with, next to the gas station, behind UNICEF old building, and the like. How do you get your electricity bill. "There is a collector that comes to every house and collects the money for the month". And of course, you pay cash. And about water, people here pay 250 ID, which is less than $0.25. "People here wash their cars every day and clean all the time”. These are some of the faces of the real Iraq that I came to experience and that every day are making me appreciate the freedoms that we have. I have not only heard the frustrations of Iraqis, but also lived them myself. The only difference is that at any time I can take a bus or a plane and leave this country, but they have to deal with them, to lift their heads, dry their tears and tell themselves that is going to get better.

I know I am only writing about the challenging things, but this to remind myself of the beauties that surround Kurdistan

Half an hour from Erbil these are the amazing views of Iraq

These are the things that I really appreciate and that help me forget for a few hours of the other more difficult things.....